Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Norwegian: Den dag du gav oss, er til ende
Swedish: Den dag du gave oss, Gud, är gången
Genesis 1:3; Revelation 5:13
Text: John Ellerton (1826-1893). Tune: Clement Cotterill Scholefield (1839-1904)
1. The day you gave us, Lord, is ended, The darkness falls at your behest; To you our morning hymns ascended, Your praise shall hallow now our rest.
2. We thank you that your church, unsleeping While earth rolls onward into light, Through all the world her watch is keeping, And rests not now by day or night.
3. As o'er each continent and island The dawn leads on another day, The voice of pray'r is never silent, Nor dies the strain of praise away.
4. The sun, that bids us rest, is waking Our brethren 'neath the western sky, And hour by hour fresh lips are making Your wondrous doings heard on high.
5. So be it, Lord; your throne shall never, Like earth's proud empires, pass away; But stand and rule and grow forever, 'Til all your creatures own your sway.
MEDITATION Queen Victoria chose this hymn to be sung at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. (Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and her Sapphire Jubilee in 2017! And this hymn was sung.) The hymn was, for Victoria, in addition to a description of how the gospel had spread around the world, an accurate description of the British Empire—the sun never sets on it! It made the hymn known around the world. Ellerton, an English divine, wrote it as a mission hymn for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), one of the main organizations in the world for mission.
While it was written in the context of the imperial reach of England, the hymn is enclosed in stanzas that set all worldly empires in their place. The first stanza is from Genesis and the creation of day and night, and the last from Revelation and the end times when the Lord will be seen to rule all things.
When the LBW came out, this hymn, which had been in previous American Lutheran hymnals, became the hymn for evening gatherings, synod assemblies, where people were having an evening service. Both tune and text, however, are pure Victorian. Ralph Vaughan Williams disliked the Victorian tune, as he did most things Victorian. But regardless of what he thought, or anyone else, people have taken to it.
The hymn is a vivid description of the way the gospel spread, like the sun rising and setting, like the day progresses from east to west around the globe. Many evening hymns, even the greatest by Paul Gerhardt, had been criticized for language that seemed to indicate the earth was flat—Now all the world is sleeping—was not true, people of the Enlightenment scoffed. It got so bad some hymn editors changed such phrases to "Now half the world is sleeping!" This of course missed one of the most common features of hymn language—hyperbole.
As always happens, the criticisms of a piety or language of a hymn can make the next generation change it. Ellerton makes sure the sweep of the Gospel is vividly portrayed as it travels around the globe through different time zones. Victorian England thought a lot about the globe, well aware of it, given its empire. The grand sweep of this hymn—it is one of the finest of its kind—and its pleasure in how the gospel has spread over the world has made it a classic. The progress of the Christian faith around the world is something to be thankful for and something to continue to pray for. Many are the scholars who note today that the Gospel is sweeping across the southern hemisphere with its fires. Ellerton helps us rejoice in that. And that one day all believers from all the nations will be gathered around God’s throne in praise.
HYMN INFO The hymn first appeared in an 1870 publication called A Liturgy for missionary meetings and was then revised to be included in the SPCK hymnal, Church Hymns in 1871. It was included later in Hymns: Ancient and Modern of 1889. The hymn has become one that scholars point to as a prime example of THE Victorian hymn and its times. It is one of the top ten favorites in Britain today. The tune by Scholefield breathes deeply of that tradition with its walz like rhythms. Scholefield, an English priest, was chaplain in St. Peter’s Church, in Cranley Gardens, where Arthur S. Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, was organist. Some suspect he had more to do with the tune than is believed. He named the hymn St. Clement for his friend. Stig Holter in his book on the new Norwegian hymnal thinks that by doing so Sullivan canonized his friend Scholefield! It was sung by English POW’s frequently at the end of the day during WWII, so it is always included in Remembrance Day festivities. There are millions of versions of this on YouTube. Click around!
LINKS Remembrance Day with Queen Elizabeth II https://youtu.be/T810WAEI48c
King’s College Choir https://youtu.be/dYZCOvRr-xo
Tewksbury Abbey https://youtu.be/Pigh8VHr-ZE
Royal Albert Hall 2008 Remembrance Day https://youtu.be/O4GqctJh3Fo
Royal Albert Hall 2013
Movie of the Parade at the 1897 Jubilee! https://youtu.be/pTG9NJTZFKk
Pieter Leebeeck/piano improvisations https://youtu.be/2djRmHKIHes
Swedish version/Finnish church https://youtu.be/lZL3znv2xsQ